Is Southwest Becoming an Elitist Airline?

Earlier this week, I wrote about American's new PriorityAAccess service, a package of special benefits reserved for that carrier's best customers. A key component of that package is access to special lanes to quickly clear airport security checkpoints.

Yesterday, Southwest announced the imminent launch of Fly By Security Lanes at the following airports: Baltimore/Washington International, Dallas Love Field, Phoenix, Orange County John Wayne, Denver International, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Similar to American's system, Southwest's service gives elite members and travelers flying on more expensive tickets special access to speedy security lines. And it raises the same concern: With limited staff and x-ray stations to process passengers, expediting security clearance for you means delaying it for me. And vice versa. It's not only undemocratic—it positively widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

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Such an elitist approach is especially glaring when embraced by Southwest, which has built its reputation, and its heralded profitability, on positioning itself as a one-size-fits-all carrier. That's no longer true. It remains to be seen how Southwest's traditional customers—value-oriented travelers, more focused on prices than on perks—will react to the new two-class scheme, where the convenience of a few trumps that of the many.

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